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The eyes of the host country were focused on Yang Haoran during the men’s 10m air rifle, and expectations were high.
The 18-year-old has been competing internationally for only two years, but he has already claimed a world championship gold medal, three world cup gold medals and a World Cup silver on the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) all-ages circuit.
In near-perfect form, he delivered the much-anticipated gold medal for China with a score of 209.3, in the most dominant performance at Fangshan Shooting Hall seen so far. Hrachik Babayan (ARM) was a distant second with 204.3 and Istvan Peni (HUN) came third with 183.5.
“People have been paying more attention to me,” Yang said about competing in his home country. To stay focused amid the added attention, the teenager said he tries to “stay calm, pay attention to other things and take a deep breath.”
The process seemed to work in the final in Nanjing on 20 August. The venue erupted with applause on every shot but Yang consistently hit high 10s, marking a perfect 10.9 on the fifth shot and finishing strongly with a 10.7 and 10.5 final series for gold.
Victory was all but inevitable by the fourth series, when he took a 2.9-point lead over the nearest competitor – a wide margin in this sport.
At that point the battle for silver was just heating up. Junior World 2014 Asian Shooting Champion Vadim Skorovarov (UZB) looked to be on course for silver, but marked three nines out of his last four shots to slip out of the medal places. Hrachik Babayan (ARM) leapt at the opportunity, firing consistent low-10s in the 16th and 18th series to grab silver.
‘Best shooter in the world’
“Yang is a first-rank shooter, but I must always try for first place,” Babyan said, adding that he would train daily to try to overcome Yang and also qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Peni also had praise for Yang, calling him “the best shooter in the world."
“It was really hard [to shoot against Yang]. I hoped that I could beat him but today he was the best, absolutely,” Peni said. “I’m looking forward to the World Championships [in Granada, Spain] next month. I hope I will beat him there.”
Other moments of drama included two separate shoot-offs involving Andrija Milovanovic (SRB), who was ice-cold in both instances, marking a 10.8 each time to stay alive and rise to fifth place overall.